The Movement To Defund The Police Is Getting Stronger — Here’s Why

Brianna Provenzano

Long before a Minneapolis police officer pinned his knee to George Floyd’s neck, slowly cutting off his air supply until he was dead, American cops were killing black people with impunity. The officer who killed Floyd, Derek Chauvin, was operating as a member of the Minneapolis Police Department despite the fact that he faced at least 17 misconduct complaints. The officers responsible for the deaths of Philando Castile, Freddie Gray, and Terence Crutcher were either acquitted or had the charges against them dropped, and the officers who killed Michael Brown, Alton Sterling and Tamir Rice were never charged at all.

The frequency and uniformity with which cops are let off the hook for hurting or killing people of color is why anti-police brutality protests have erupted in every major American city in response to Floyd’s death. It’s also why activists are calling not to reform or re-train the police, but to defund them.

Usually, to “defund” something means to strip it of its funding entirely. But while there are some who would advocate to abolish the American police force wholesale, recent mainstreamed proposals to “defund” the police are actually just calling for their budgets to be drastically pared down, and for city and state municipalities to reinvest some of the money that would normally be spent on policing in housing, employment, and healthcare. 

Over the past 30 years, police budgets have ballooned in American cities, with Forbes reporting that the U.S. now spends over $100 billion collectively on policing (despite reports that crime has fallen across the board during the same time frame, irrespective of the increased budgets). In the years since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks in particular, the massive cash influx has gone towards creating an increasingly militarized police force: Officers tote military grade weapons and drive armored vehicles, thanks in large part to a military-to-police equipment pipeline that some U.S. lawmakers are now calling to abolish. And at the same time police budgets have been getting bigger, attitudes on policing have been getting harsher, with many officers being trained to respond defensively and to reflexively deploy aggressive tactics in order to stay safe on the job. 

But the fact of American police being armed to the teeth is particularly striking given that research has found no evidence that shoring up police budgets keeps civilians safer — in fact, to the contrary, a 2017 report from the Center For Popular Democracy found that reallocating the money currently being spent on policing towards “a living wage, access to holistic health services and treatment, educational opportunity, and stable housing… [would be] far more successful in reducing crime than police or prisons.”

A growing political coalition across the U.S. is taking those recommendations seriously, and calls for cities to reallocate some of the money that would normally be spent on installing more officers in neighborhoods to instead be diverted to programs that support public health are growing louder. The movement already has key allies in high places: On Monday, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) tweeted her criticism of New York City’s bloated police budget.

“If police budgets bought peace, the $6 billion NYPD budget would’ve bought the most sophisticated de-escalatory operation in the world,” she wrote. “Clearly, it didn’t.

New York State Senator Julia Salazar also recently tweeted in support of defunding the New York Police Department, which currently has an operating budget of $6 billion that remained virtually untouched after Mayor Bill de Blasio’s post-COVID-19 budget restructuring (notably, the city’s Department of Education and Department of Youth and Community Development faced far deeper cuts). 

“I think that attempts to reform the NYPD have failed — attempts to provide de-escalation training, to train officers on emergency, mental health, first aid,” Salazar recently told The Appeal. “When we look at their resources, and how they’re deploying them violently and recklessly, it makes the case even stronger for reducing their budget, and then using those funds for social services [like] harm reduction, community-based public safety.”

That ideology is mirrored in similar movements that have cropped up across the country: In 2019, activists in the Durham, North Carolina-based coalition “Durham Beyond Policing” campaigned for — and won — a commitment from the city government not to fund the hiring of new police officers. In her announcement of the decision to back the group’s proposal, Durham Mayor Pro Tempore Jillian Johnson wrote, “The safest communities don’t have the most cops; they have the most resources.” And in Austin, Texas, groups like the Austin Justice Coalition (AJC) have petitioned the city council to reallocate $1.75 million from the police budget to dedicate to EMS, so that 911 calls involving mental health emergencies would be handled by trained mental health teams instead of the police.

While a growing number of activists are eager to see police budgets shrink, a recent Gallup poll found that, despite high-profile instances of violence and misconduct, the police force is still an American institution that polls high in terms of public confidence. And powerful police unions and bargaining agreements help to grant officers ironclad protections around employment and benefits in many instances, which will mean that the fight to dismantle existing police infrastructure will be fraught. 

But as Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, recently told “Nightline,” protesters across the country have isolated “police accountability” as their near-singular demand — and they aren’t likely to rest until they see it met.

“[Protesters] want to see the arrest of all the officers involved [in the murder of George Floyd]. They want to have no more terror, no more police terror in their communities,” Cullors said. “Everybody wants to be apologized to. Everybody wants to be told, ‘I’m sorry. What I did was wrong. It was unacceptable. We won’t do it again and, in fact, this is how we change.’”

Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?

Protecting Big Stores Should Not Be The Priority

"The Police Are More Dangerous Than COVID-19"

Why Are Protestors Being Framed As The Problem?

More From

  • Best Black Sports Bra From High Impact To Padded

    In the vast abyss of athleisure you can buy on the Internet, variety isn't lacking. You can buy fitness gear in just about every color and pattern under the sun, from chartreuse to cheetah print. But there's something to be said for simplicity — especially if you're buying something like a sports bra, where it's more about quality than style. A black sports bra that works is better than a hot pink bra that looks cute, but is short on support. Plus, sometimes you want that chic health goth look. So we've rounded up six black sports bras that will support you through anything from yoga to bootcamp. Consider them the Little Black Dresses of the workout gear world. Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?Tips On Styling By Instagram Model, Jennifer AbeyThe Difference Between A $10 and $120 Sports BraThe Best High Impact Sports Bras

  • 14 Recycled-Fiber Swimsuits For An Eco-Friendly Summer Wardrobe

    We have a hunch that — despite your summer vacation being canceled — you’re still shopping for swimwear. (Because, um, we still are.) Just because we’re not traveling far from home doesn’t mean we’re not seeking a water source — it may just be the fire hydrant around the block or the inflatable backyard pool instead of a far-flung white-sand beach. So no matter what, we’re in the market for a freshly-pressed maillot or a hot-off-the-press bikini. Keep one thing in mind as you browse the (digital) racks for a new bathing suit: a lot of swimwear is made from nylon, which is plastic. And we know that there’s already way too much plastic discarded into the ocean. As swimwear brands are getting wise to this unfortunate fact, more and more are offering recycled-fiber options in the bathing-tog category. So this time around, look out for brands that are using recycled synthetic materials to create those scoop-back maillots, high-waisted briefs, and balconette tops that will keep you ever-so-stylish, whether you’re enjoying a socially distant beach day or just cooling off around the corner. At Refinery29, we’re here to help you navigate this overwhelming world of stuff. All of our market picks are independently selected and curated by the editorial team. The product details reflect the price and availability at the time of publication. If you buy something we link to on our site, Refinery29 may earn commission.Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?The Coolest Swimwear Made From Recycled Plastic16 Black-Owned Swimsuit Brands To Shop This Summer

  • Here’s The Real, Really Stupid Reason Michael Cohen Was Sent Back To Prison

    At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, received a rare get-out-of-jail card and was granted permission to finish out the rest of his sentence at home citing health concerns. Unfortunately for Cohen, instead of passing go, he’ll be heading back several spaces to solitary confinement. After being furloughed in May, Cohen was taken back into custody on Thursday for failing to sign the Bureau of Prisons’ guidelines for his release. But what is perhaps most jarring about this are the guidelines that Cohen was unable or unwilling to follow. According to CBS News, which cited a copy of the conditional terms for Cohen’s release, he was expected to agree to “no engagement of any kind with the media, including print, tv, film, books, or any other form of media/news.” The guidelines also stated that Cohen was not allowed to post on social media, and asked that friends and family he communicated with use discretion about what they post about him on social media as well. “The purpose is to avoid glamorizing or bringing publicity to your status as a sentenced inmate serving a custodial term in the community,” the rules read. However, Cohen didn’t agree with these terms, and he and his attorney, Jeffrey Levine, were in the process of requesting a change to the guidelines.According to Levine, Cohen found the barriers — which, again, were to not talk to the media and not use Twitter — too ridiculous and showed no intent to follow them. Levine explained that signing the agreement would mean accepting that he can’t engage with the media through any medium, blocking his forthcoming book about President Trump from release. “I’ve never seen any language like this in my life that would strip a person of their First Amendment rights to communicate with the media,” Levine said. On July 2, Cohen tweeted about his book, violating the terms of his furlough. On Thursday, U.S. Marshals were ordered to take him back to prison outside of the courthouse where Cohen and his lawyer were trying to negotiate the terms. After a short hour and a half, Cohen pleaded, “I’ll sign the whole document if that means I don’t have to go back to jail.” Still, he’d already squandered his shot. > Favorable ruling yesterday by the Court as I am close to completion of my book…> > — Michael Cohen (@MichaelCohen212) July 2, 2020This all comes after a long investigation process that ended in Cohen’s 2018 sentencing to prison. In a plea deal, he was sentenced to three years for financial and campaign finance crimes on top of lying to Congress about his involvement in plans to erect a “Trump Tower” in Moscow while the 2016 campaign was happening. However, his violations also included the fact that Cohen set up payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal during the 2016 campaign to keep quiet about their alleged affairs with Donald Trump. Cohen was already served a cease and desist letter from the Trump Organization while working on his book, explaining that he’s violating a confidentiality agreement and attorney-client privilege. Still, he’s continued to move forward with the book. This latest stint and his trip back to prison just might show that perhaps Cohen has a pattern of not honoring agreements. Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?This Is How Long Larry Nassar Will Stay In PrisonJalil Muntaqim Is Battling Coronavirus In PrisonA Complete Timeline Of Jeffrey Epstein's Crimes

  • Does Trump’s Twitter Threat To Defund Schools Actually Mean Anything?

    On Friday, President Donald Trump sent a pair of tweets accusing a nondescript number of “universities and school systems” of being “about Radical Left Indoctrination not Education.” Advancing his administration’s drive to turn education into a political wedge issue, Trump announced that he is having the Treasury Department reexamine the tax-exempt status and funding of universities and publicly funded schools. Trump threatened to take away the status and funding of any institution “if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues.”“Therefore, I am telling the Treasury Department to re-examine their Tax-Exempt Status… and/or Funding, which will be taken away if this Propaganda or Act Against Public Policy continues. Our children must be Educated, not Indoctrinated!” Trump wrote in his thread.Trump’s tweets are the latest in a series of efforts from his administration to influence the state of education and re-open school systems in the Fall. Earlier this week, he rejected the advice of health specialists and threatened to strip schools of funding if they do not reopen ICE also announced this week that it would not issue visas to international students taking classes at schools hosting Fall term entirely online, which runs the risk of displacing upwards of one million students. But Trump’s specific threat to essentially defund some schools assumes a type of power he may not even have. Both public and private universities and colleges in the U.S. largely have tax-exempt status as an educational institution or through being an entity of the state government, according to the Association of American Universities. Trump’s complaints do not keep institutions from qualifying for tax-exempt status under current guidelines put forward by the Internal Revenue Service. “Advocacy of a particular position or viewpoint,” according to the IRS, still falls under educational for tax purposes “if there is a sufficiently full and fair exposition of pertinent facts to permit an individual or the public to form an independent opinion or conclusion.” Another snag in Trump’s plan is that federal law prohibits the IRS from targeting groups for regulatory scrutiny “based on their ideological beliefs.”Still, this isn’t the first time Trump has complained about schools being driven by what he describes as a radical, leftist ideology. On the Fourth of July, he condemned “Cancel Culture” as a political weapon endangering the American way of life. “In our schools, our newsrooms, even our corporate boardrooms, there is a new far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance,” said Trump in his Mount Rushmore address. “If you do not speak its language, perform its rituals, recite its mantras, and follow its commandments, then you will be censored, banished, blacklisted, persecuted, and punished. It’s not going to happen to us.” He continued saying, “Against every law of society and nature, our children are taught in school to hate their own country and to believe that the men and women who built it were not heroes, but that were villains.”Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?Why Customers Are Boycotting Goya FoodsWhat The BLM Mural Outside Of Trump Tower MeansThese SCOTUS Decisions Are Giving Us Whiplash